Why your baby will never sleep through the night (and neither will you)

Sleeping through the night.

Sometimes it feels like an elusive goal, a star off in the distance and you don’t even know if it’s real.

Sometimes it feels like a hard-won prize — suddenly trickling through your fingers.

And sometimes it feels like it’s just your reality.

But regardless of how you choose to view it, on some level, it’s a farce.

Because even though we all hope to sleep through the night, technically there is no such thing as sleeping through the night.

The Naysayers

From time to time, one of my Sleep Consultant colleagues will share a link to a blog post written by an AP that someone shared in one of their Mommy groups (usually accompanied by a frustrated comment). And on the rare occasions that I really want to waste my time, I’ll read them.

One of the things that I see coming up again and again on the posts that I’ve read is that sleeping through the night is just not natural.

“No one sleeps through the night,” they’ll say.

Or: “Well, everyone wakes up multiple times throughout the night – so how can you expect your baby to do otherwise?”

Or (and this is the best one): “Do YOU sleep through the night?!”

And I sigh and try to keep from rolling my eyes – because, yes, they’re technically right; but really they’re dead wrong.

Like I said above: there is, technically, no such thing a sleeping through the night, and yes, we do all wake up every night… but not all wake-ups are equal, and what most of us mean when we say “sleep through the night” is actually including some wake-ups.

The Journey into Sleep

We tend to think of falling asleep as being like shutting off the light and then — you’re out! But the reality is that sleep is a whole lot more complex than that.

Falling asleep is a journey and, like any journey, we all have our own route that we take and the things we take along with us. (More on that next week, but hang in here with me.)

And, like any journey, getting there isn’t a dramatic Floo powder entrance, it’s a slow, gradual arrival.

So first we get into light sleep. You know when someone says, “Hey! You were just sleeping!” and you go “No, I wasn’t!” – that’s Stage 1, or light sleep. Nearly anything can pull you out of light sleep – you’re so barely asleep that you almost aren’t (if that even makes sense).

Then we get into Stage 2, a little deeper in, but not quite there yet. Then comes deep sleep in Stage 3 (or Stages 3 and 4, as it used to be called), where our brain waves do what the sleep professionals call “K Waves” – a brain wave that’s unique to deep sleep.

We’ll usually have REM sleep after deep sleep; REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement – because that’s exactly what happens. Most of our dreaming happens in REM sleep, and our brain react as though we’re actually awake and experiencing our dreams. To keep us safe, we’re pretty much paralyzed during REM – the only thing that can move to experience our dreams is our eyes.

And then, our sleep’s over — except that it’s only been about 45 (for our babies) to 75 (for us) minutes long… or is it?

There’s (wakeups) and then there’s WAKEUPS

At the end of our Stages 1-3 + REM, we’ve completed a sleep cycle – but wait! There’s more! Oh, yes, there is most CERTAINLY more, because it’s when we get consolidated sleep – a cycle, and then another cycle and then another cycle – that we actually feel well-rested.

(And that’s why you can technically get your needed 8 hours of sleep, but if they’re broken by a baby needing to eat, or waking to roll over at the end of pregnancy… then you just don’t feel like you got 8 hours).

So when you wake up at the end of that cycle, you don’t really wake up; you have a partial awakening.

You’re kind of in sleep, kind of out of sleep, not really here nor there — and then, hopefully, you slide right back into the next cycle.

And that’s why you will never really “sleep through the night” – you will never go a full 8 hours without any wake-ups, and your baby will never go a full 12 hours without any wake-ups.

BUT – and this is the big but for all the Naysayers out there – a partial awakening is very very different from a complete awakening. Consolidated sleep means that you’re having partial awakenings in between the cycles, so your baby will technically be “sleeping through the night” even with those partial awakenings.

Once those wakes turn into complete wake-ups, though, it’s a different story entirely – now that sleep is no longer consolidated and you’re really really really not sleeping through the night.

So even though you’re technically never sleeping through the night, you and your baby are absolutely capable of a non-technical sleeping-through the night. For your baby – that’s 12 hours every night, and for you that is – should be! – 8 hours.

Sleep well!

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